This story about “Sylvie’s Love” and Eugene Ashe first appeared in the Limited Series & TV Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine
When writer-director Eugene Ashe sat down to write “Sylvie’s Love,” his goal was to tell a good, original story — the kind that Black audiences don’t often get to see themselves in. But that story has been on quite the journey. Ashe wrote the screenplay about a romance in the New York City jazz scene of the 1950s and ’60s a few years ago, filmed it in February 2019 and premiered it at Sundance in January 2020, where Amazon Studios bought it for what was presumed to be a theatrical release.
In the end, though, the lush period film starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha dropped on Amazon Prime in a holiday season that followed a devastating year-long pandemic that was nowhere close to over. It was also released in the aftermath of a year full of racial trauma — and as it turned out, that was the perfect moment for a dreamy love story. “You never know what the zeitgeist is going to be at the time, so it’s interesting that it wound up being the thing that people needed,” Ashe said.
Of course, it was always part of Ashe’s intent for “Sylvie’s Love” to be a bit of a balm for the soul. “I was really trying to kind of create an instant classic, as much as that’s possible to do,” he said. “I’m hoping that it’ll still resonate with people 20 years from now. That was ultimately the goal. I feel like I snuck one in, you know?”
The idea largely came from Ashe’s own family, and old photos he had of his parents and relatives. And though Ashe’s immediate family is gone now, he did get to show it to extended relatives and got their stamp of approval. He made a point to still get some historical references in there, including to the rising feminist movement of the era — but at its heart, “Sylvie’s Love” was purely centered on the onscreen romance.
Still, the film isn’t exactly the typical love story of the era. Sylvie, played by Thompson, is a young working woman with dreams of becoming a television executive. Robert (Asomugha) is an up-and-coming musician. Though the two fall helplessly in love — even as Sylvie is engaged to someone else — neither stops the other from chasing their dreams. And that was particularly important for Ashe.
“In trying to write a great love story, I wanted to try to get at the things that really keep us apart,” he said. “And loving someone so much that you’re willing to let the love go so that they can thrive and be the best version of themselves, I think, is the ultimate form of love. For me, that’s a very, very romantic idea.”
While Sylvie’s Love wasn’t released in movie theaters, Ashe did get to see it projected as hoped at Sundance and a few drive-in showings beyond the festival. And he admitted that there were some benefits to that. “I think it found a much bigger audience through a streamer than it may have found in theaters, especially during a pandemic,” he said.
And that means more people were able to see a story that displays what Ashe felt was a sorely needed take on the Black experience of half a century ago. “We generally see (Black characters) only through the lens of the civil rights movement if we’re handling subject matter that deals with Black folks in the ’60s,” he said. “So I just kind of wanted to do something a little different.”
And at the end of the film’s long journey, Ashe is pleased with what he and his team were able to put together, and optimistic about the future for movies like it. “I do feel like I accomplished what it was I was going for,” he said. “But there’s still a lot more work to be done.”
Cynthia Erivo on the front cover of the June 15, 2021 issue of the EmmyWrap Limited Series & Movies magazine
Read original story ‘Sylvie’s Love’ Director Found Silver Lining in Film’s Pandemic Release: ‘It Wound Up Being the Thing That People Needed’ At TheWrap